President Donald Trump claimed Monday that he’s been taking hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug he’s been touting as a potential coronavirus cure, for a couple of weeks in hopes of preventing COVID-19.
“You’d be surprised at how many people are taking it, especially the frontline workers before you catch it. … I happen to be taking it,” the president said at a roundtable with restaurant executives.
“I’ve heard a lot of good stories,” Trump, who says he has not tested positive for the coronavirus, continued. “And if it is not good, I will tell you right. I’m not going to get hurt by it. It has been around for 40 years for malaria, for lupus, for other things.”
That is not guaranteed. Not only is there is no known evidence that the drug works in COVID-19 cases, but it has potentially serious side effects, including the possibility that it may alter a patient’s heartbeat in a way that could lead to sudden death.
The Food and Drug Administration warned against its use in coronavirus cases except for in formal studies in late April, citing that serious heart risk, after Trump claimed it may be “one of the biggest game-changers in the history of medicine” and began mentioning it on a near-daily basis.
Since then, a study of 1,400 patients at Columbia University in New York found that hydroxychloroquine did not lower the risk of dying or needing a breathing tube. Likewise, there is also no proof that the drug can prevent infection.
Another study had a grimmer outcome. According to findings by Veterans Affairs and academic researchers, hydroxychloroquine was linked to higher death rates in coronavirus patients who received it than those who did not receive it.
Hours after Trump’s remarks, the White House released a memorandum from the president’s physician stating, “After numerous discussions he and I had regarding the evidence for and against the use of hydroxychloroquine, we concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks.” However, Trump’s doctor didn’t say in the letter whether he’d prescribed Trump the drug.
Trump has reportedly pushed health agencies to direct funding toward hydroxychloroquine studies, despite infectious disease experts saying it would not be an effective use of time or money as they desperately search for a treatment and vaccine.
The National Institutes of Health announced last week it’s enrolling more COVID-19 patients in a study of 2,000 people.
Trump has also bucked public health guidance by not wearing a mask at public gatherings despite two people who work in the White House falling ill with the virus in recent weeks.
While Trump has the benefit of doctors monitoring his health around the clock, others who may seek out the drug because of his remarks may not be so lucky. Following Trump’s excitement over the drug in late March, an Arizona man died after ingesting a substance used to clean fish tanks that contains chloroquine, an element of the drug Trump’s touting.
The president, who’s also pitched disinfectant and sunlight as potential COVID-19 cures, suggested to reporters Monday that he was excited about the shock value of his admission.
“I was just waiting to see your eyes light up when I said this,” he told them.